How can near-death experiences be explained? | DW Documentary

Is paradise waiting for us in the afterlife? Some people who have had near-death experiences say they have glimpsed the afterlife. Medical experts doubt this, however, in the absence of any scientific explanations.

Are near-death experiences authentic reports from the afterlife? Or a figment of the imagination? A bright light at the end of a tunnel, a short film of one’s own life and indescribable feelings of happiness – this is how brain researcher Gerhard Roth describes his near-death experience. He is not alone: thousands of people have such experiences every year. What‘s behind these reports? Scientists are working intensively to fathom the mechanisms of such an experience, and to find out whether these people really could have glimpsed into the afterlife.

Researchers almost always explain near-death experiences in terms of neurological processes in the brain. Moreover, they argue, most people with near-death experiences are “only” clinically dead – and thus, medically speaking, still alive and kicking. With modern techniques, scientists can track the process of dying more and more precisely, and describe what happens in the brain in the process.

But one question remains: Why do we have such experiences in the first place? A brand new study presents a possible explanation for the first time: Evolution may have ensured that we experience the moment of dying as being as pleasant as possible. This is why the brain is programmed to release opioids or to dig up old, long-forgotten memories when the end is approaching.

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